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When well-known businessman Martin Acla's stroke makes the news headlines, celebrated author Valeria Costas's world impldes; as Martin's secret lover for the past thirty years the idea of losing him is beyond comprehension. Desperate to find a way to be alongside him during his final days, Valeria commissions Martin's artist wife to paint her portrait and so inserts herself into his family home - and life. In the grand mansion house in west London where the man they share lies comatose, Valeria and Isla remain poised on the brink - and transfixed by each other. Does Isla's know of her sitter's long involvement with her husband? Does Martin know she's there in his house? And what about the fact that Valeria's mother is simultaneously losing her own battle with life hundreds of miles away in Rhodes? As the portrait starts to take shape, we watch these singular women struggle while the love of their lives departs - taking with him much of what has defined each of them. In its nuanced description of two very different people and the secrets they keep we're tossed high and low in an unforgettable tale reminiscent of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet and Zoe Heller's Notes on a Scandal. Filled with deception and mystery, The Portrait is a breathless dance that intrigues until the very end.

 

Details

ISBN: 9781911630425
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 432
Edition: Export/Airside
Publication Date: 2 Apr 2020
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Publication City, Country: London, United Kingdom
Dimensions (cm): 21.4(H) x 13.7(L) x 3.1(W)
Weight (gm): 520

 

Reviews

A gripping story of love, death, art and deceit, which is also strange, beautiful and deeply original. The Portrait is unlike anything else I've read. -- Sofka Zinovieff, author of PUTNEY
as brisk as an easterly breeze . . . A thread of deliciously dark humour is woven into this involving web of performances and fictions; Bernardini is good on the magical thinking of grief, too. Not all will swallow the final twist, but it's nonetheless a salutary reminder that we are players in others' stories, even as we are consumed by our own. -- Stephanie Cross * Daily Mail *
Italian novelist Ilaria Bernardini's English language debut is a nuanced exploration of love, grief, deceit and secrets. When well-known businessman Martin has a devastating stroke, his secret lover Valeria Costas formulates a way to be by his bedside during his final days. She commissions Martin's artist wife Isla to paint her portrait, furtively inserting herself into his home, where both women simultaneously struggle to cope while the man they love lies in a coma. This is an affecting story that brings to mind Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels. * Culturefly *

For 30 years, author Valeria Costas has conducted an affair with Martin Acla, a well-known businessman. After he suffers
a stroke, she's desperate to find a way to be close to him and commissions his wife, Isla, to paint her portrait. This rich,
seductive novel
unfolds over a series of sittings in the London home where Martin lies in a coma. The question of how much Isla really knows adds suspense to a riveting story rich in feeling and humour.

-- Hephzibah Anderson * Irish Mail on Sunday *

The premise of this novel - a woman painting the portrait of her husband's mistress - is irresistible and full of dramatic possibilities. Valeria, a famous writer, is overwhelmed with joy when her lover's wife, Isla, agrees to paint her. Martin, with whom she has shared much of her life in passionate secrecy, has had a stroke and is now in a
coma. Valeria can be near him by attending sittings.

Bernardini's prose is wistful and gentle, with atmospheric descriptions of place, like Martin's hushed Holland Park
home, where he lies upstairs while his wife and lover sit opposite one another downstairs. The intensity of feeling pulses through the rooms. And there is a faint menace hovering throughout: how much of the truth is really known?

The portrait itself takes its place as a decisive symbol. As the finished result is revealed, something far bigger emerges that feels both astonishing and right. You close Bernardini's work with a quiet reverence.

-- Elizabeth Fitzherbert * The Lady *
Love a tale of complex women and tragedy? This is a story for you. An internationally renowned writer, Valeria has dedicated her life to her work and to her married lover, Martin. When his sudden stroke makes headlines, her world implodes. Desperate to find a way to be present during his final days, Valeria commissions his artist wife, Isla, to paint her portrait, and insinuating herself into Martin's family home and life. What could go wrong...? * Stylist *
A dizzying and impassioned story of love, deception and loss...the stereotypical rivalry between wife and lover is broken down and examined through skilful characterisation and dynamic plot. * Business Post (Ireland) *
An electric, impossible-to-put-down novel, Ilaria Bernardini's The Portrait is a brilliantly constructed, wildly astute plunge into the depths of love, rivalry, betrayal and the power of women. -- Bill Clegg (author of DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY)
As soon as I read The Portrait I bought its rights. I thought it could be an elegant, extremely powerful and moving TV series and that it was right for us. Both the characters of Valeria and Isla - so fascinating and true - propel this exciting story with tenderness, passion, and humour. -- Lorenzo Mieli, Fremantle Media and Wildside CEO, producer of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND and THE YOUNG POPE
Anguished by the death of her secret lover of 30 years, a woman commissions the man's wife to paint her portrait so that she can be close to his family home and life. As one sits and one paints, things begin to materialise. This English-language debut by Italian bestseller Bernardini has a compelling ring to it. * Irish Independent *
A fascinating, seductive novel, full of nuance * Grazia Italia *
A stunning "pas de deux" that is enchanting, thrilling and incredibly moving. * Marie Claire Italia *
With a beautiful voice in which the richness of perspective doesn't confuse or disturb the ruthless, sharp, linearity of the narration, in The Portrait, Ilaria Bernardini mostly speaks about braveness . . . The light of The Portrait is perfectly dim at the beginning and slowly, page after page, becomes bright and illuminates powerfully, to the point of blinding us. Ilaria Bernardini constantly tunes that light with wisdom but without giving any consolation. When a narration is that of real literature, it makes it impossible for us to wear glasses behind which to hide. -- Malcom Pagani * Vanity Fair Italia *
Dizzying . . . astonishing . . . touching . . . stunning * Elle Italia *
Bernardini explores loss, love and storytelling in this intimate novel told from Valeria's perspective. A multitude of stories, memories of her meetings with Martin and of the sister, ever present in her mind despite the four decades since her death, are woven through the few weeks Valeria sits for Isla. She's a pleasingly complex character, apparently strong and independent, rejoicing in her cosmopolitan life as an acclaimed short story writer, while in reality riddled with a constant questioning insecurity. It's also a novel about writing - Valeria is a stealer of stories, not above rifling other people's lives even at the risk of being exposed. There's a quiet thread of humour running through Bernardini's novel leavening the loss and hurt - Valeria's over-empathising assistant is a triumph with her adulation and need for hugs - while the question of how much Isla really knows hovers tantalisingly over the last half. Altogether an enjoyable read . . . * alifeinbooks.co.uk *
In her debut English-language novel, Italian author Ilaria Bernardini tells a ceaselessly engaging, character-driven story of connection and deception, love, mortality and letting go. [...] an exquisitely heart-breaking and beautiful account of coming to terms with the complex sadness and simultaneous warmth of an imperfect world -- Ben Adams * The Advertiser (Adelaide) *

. . . a dizzying and impassioned story of love, deception and loss [ . . . ] irresistible.

The central relationship of Valeria, Ilsa and Antonia is beautifully rendered and complex, prioritising truth over aesthetics, but finding beauty in this process. Here, the stereotypical rivalry between wife and lover is broken down and examined through skilful characterisation and dynamic plot. It is not always clear who to root for, with many conflicting perspectives and shifts in sympathy throughout, but as Ilsa says of portraiture, "the winner is the one who gets to tell the story".

* Sunday Business Post (Ireland) *

 

Author Biography

Ilaria Bernardini is a prolific, bestselling Italian screenwriter and author of 8 novels, whose latest, Faremo Foresta ('We Will Grow a Forest') was longlisted for Italy's prestigious Strega Prize. She is a Vogue columnist and regular contributor for Rolling Stone and GQ magazines. She co-wrote the late renowned director Bernardo Bertolucci's last film, The Echo Chamber. Based in Milan, she splits her time between there and London.
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